Gaming has become such a huge market that CES has established a separate area for it. I don’t know if the segregation was for the benefit of the gaming industry or for CES itself. As I’m betting CES didn’t know what kind of crowd it might attract, and saw the parking lot as a safe out-of-the-way place to stash it and see what transpired. Regardless, it appears gaming and the billion dollar industry it feeds is here to stay.

While at the Creative booth I met the world’s premier gamer, Johnathan Wendel, who goes by the screen name of “Fatal1ty“.  He’s won about a half a million dollars in prize money and millions more from business partnerships with Universal Abit, Creative Labs, OC Labs and XFX who produce motherboards, video cards, mice, headphones and other computer devices, and even has a clothing line … all under his gaming handle. He’s the only person to have won world championships in five different games. So you’d think that either he’d be the stereotyped gaming freak (over-weight, introverted and pale) or have such an over-the-top ego as to be an insufferable bore. If those would be your first guesses, you couldn’t be more wrong. I found him to be outgoing, extremely polite and patient. The NBA, NFL and MLB should use him as an example of how a top athlete should behave. I use the term “athlete” as he believes you must be be physically fit to compete at the highest levels and succeed. Who would have guessed? After watching how he dealt with all types of fans, both in groups and in between his skill demonstrations, he was a representative any company would love.  A proverbial gaming “Tiger Woods” in his prime, without all the personal baggage and typical pro athlete attitude.

For his personal appearances, Creative set up a stage with matching computers and huge screens for anyone to test their skills against him. Before attempt that feat, you spun a wheel to determine how he would play you (full tilt – no handicap, using a cardboard sheet with only a two inch square cut out in the center covering the monitor, or a bizarre contraption that looked like a board with a keyboard and mouse pad nailed to it, a-la-guitar style).

Since I play well enough to speak of myself in the third person, using my gaming moniker … enough to really disturb my wife … I raised my hand. I spun the wheel and got lucky … he had to put the cardboard in front of his monitor and could only look through a two inch square hole. If I were to “kill” him just once (I didn’t have to win, just a single “kill”) there were very substantial prizes.  The game was an old fav of mine … Quake. I felt that there was a real possibility of me going home with the prize of an expensive new video card … despite the fact he was the current world champ. The bell rings and it takes him almost two minutes to get me twice … I came sooooo close at one point, and it was at that point I felt as though a different person had just gotten into his seat. He got down to business … I couldn’t stay alive for more than three seconds (sometimes much, much less). He had been toying with me the whole time … I was shocked at just how good he really was. If this had occurred while playing online, I’d just “know” that the guy was cheating. There could have been five of me playing and it wouldn’t have made the tiniest difference. As I walked off stage after being crushed, I was handed a “Fatality” dog tag … I didn’t even read what it said as I assumed it probably stated in print that I was a “noob” (a terrible insult in the gaming world).

Over the next three days probably hundreds of people, including some gaming pros, went up onto that stage and left as empty handed as I did. Imagine sparring with Ali, pitching to the “Babe” or chalking it up with “Fats” … I played the best gamer on the planet and found that some people are just gifted beyond what anyone could comprehend until experienced.

Yes, I still talk about myself in the third person around wife, after slapping down all my opponents in “Halo”, who after losing, accuse me of cheating. But it’s tongue-in-cheek now.

Only if they had any idea of what a truly exceptional player could do … they’d probably stop playing all together.

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